A car ad in space finally brought the country together

  • SpaceX launched a Tesla into space atop its Falcon Heavy rocket on Tuesday.
  • The video feed of the event was the second most viewed YouTube livestream of all time.
  • For a moment, the excitement was a respite from feelings of division in our country.

Yesterday afternoon, Americans gathered around to watch and cheer as a car (and its dummy driver) got launched deep into space.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch was the second most viewed YouTube livestream of all time. My Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter feeds were filled with awe from friends and strangers, all because a cherry red Tesla Roadster was mounted atop a 23-story rocket and fired off our planet.

One could argue that this was the greatest PR stunt of recent memory. For Tesla, a company that spent zero dollars on advertising for its cars in 2016, it was a media coup. Can you name any other car that’s currently on its own orbit around the sun?

As far as SpaceX is concerned, the Falcon Heavy is likely not the vehicle that the company plans to eventually send to Mars. (That will be a new, more powerful system that Elon Musk refers to as BFR, short for Big F–king Rocket.) And although two of the three recyclable boosters successfully landed themselves, SpaceX didn’t even have plans to reuse them.

So why, then, did it feel so exhilarating to watch a billionaire from South Africa launch his old car off the planet?

Here’s my personal answer: On that car is a small circuit board printed with the words “Made on Earth by humans”. For a brief while, it felt like we were all together, cheering for the same force: human curiosity and ingenuity.

Most of the time, our country is divided. We are constantly asked to choose a side: Democrats versus Republicans, Patriots versus Eagles, baby boomers versus millennials. On my social media feeds these days, what I see mostly ranges from entertaining soap opera to outright rage and finger-pointing. Facebook has a “timeout” feature now for people who you need a little break from. I use that more often than I’d like.

But yesterday, we gathered around TVs and monitors and a collective glee washed over us as the Falcon Heavy successfully passed each stage on its trip into the cosmos. When the Roadster emerged and David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” blared on SpaceX’s livestream, an excitement welled up in me that I haven’t felt since I was a kid.

Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket since Saturn V, which brought the Apollo astronauts to the moon. Ask older generations where they were when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface and they will likely remember. This new rocket’s maiden voyage may not stand that test of time, and yesterday’s awe could easily get eclipsed by an even cooler feat in the future – after all, this was just a test launch – but it was hard not to share joy in SpaceX’s success.

For that moment, we were just a bunch of humans on Earth, cheering on 6,000 fellow humans as their rocket rose into space, carrying a brilliant ad for an electric car.